Let me go ahead and preface all of this: we will not be getting answers to all of these questions during the spring, and we might not solve any of them. Spring practice is a time for coaches to figure out what they have at each position, work on the fundamentals, and begin to get a new team to mesh. With that being said, there are still some pressing headlines that will get plenty of attention over these next couple of weeks.
Will Luther Burden immediately take over the wide receiver room?
He was the #1 overall wide receiver recruit in the class of 2022. He stands at 5’11”, 210 lbs. out of East St. Louis High School. He is the second highest-rated recruit Mizzou has ever had (DGB being the first).
Luther Burden is who everyone wants to see this season, and for good reason. However, there are always plenty of hurdles that come with being a freshman in college football, especially in the SEC. The speed of play, athletes, and playbooks will exceed anything Burden has seen in high school, and it remains to be seen how steep of a learning curve he will have to climb.
On top of that, this is a veteran wide receiver room with plenty of proven targets returning. Barrett Banister is entering year 30 in Columbia and is the most sure-handed option. Tauskie Dove is similarly experienced and has explosive ability. Chance Luper came on strong last season and is looking to take the next step before the NFL potentially comes calling. JJ Hester and Dominic Lovett had promising freshman campaigns and are poised for bigger things in 2022. Add in fellow highly-touted freshman wide receiver Mekhi Miller (who also enrolled early), and Burden has plenty of competition to work against. This will only make him better, but to be a day one starter, Burden will need to pick up the offense quickly and make some plays in the spring.
When Louisiana Tech comes to town in early September, will Luther Burden look like a superstar, or merely a freshman in his first collegiate game? The spring will go a long way in determining that.
Who will step up at tight end?
The transfer of Daniel Parker Jr. and medical retirement of Niko Hea threw a wrench in what was going to be an experienced tight end room. Now, the Tigers turn to some fresh faces to pick up the slack.
Ryan Hoerstkamp and Gavin McKay were both 3-star recruits from the class of 2021 with plenty of upside, but were too young to play much last season. Now, they are the “veterans” of the tight end room, and it is their time to shine. With each of them standing at 6’4”, they have the size to be a downfield presence for Drinkwitz’ offense.
However, they face some competition in the form of incoming recruits/transfers. Tyler Stephens comes in from Buffalo having recorded 15 catches for 167 yards and a touchdown in his lone season as a Bull. At 6’6”, he is another intriguing addition with plenty of size.
Max Whisner out of Lee’s Summit, MO was one of the first commits of the 2022 recruiting class, and he has been all-in on Missouri ever since. The Kansas City-favorite has plenty of talent and the commitment to be a home-state hero. Oh yeah, he’s also 6’6”. Drinkwitz likes his size at tight end.
Which of the early-enrollees will make the biggest statement?
We have already discussed Burden, Miller, and Whisner as possible answers to this question.
Nathaniel Peat is another notable name due to his ties to Columbia, having set school records at local Rock Bridge High School just a couple years ago. The former Stanford Cardinal can earn his spot during spring ball (see question #4 for more on this).
However, a name I look at is Joseph Charleston (not just because he went to my high school). The Clemson transfer was a highly-touted 4-star safety in large part thanks to his size (6’0”, 200 lbs.) and tackling ability. At Clemson, Charleston recorded 62 tackles in three seasons but could never solidify himself as a contributor on the defense. Coverage in the back end was his main weakness, as well as just overall speed. He has the physical tools to be great, but he needs to fine-tune his game to make his second go-round as a Tiger more memorable.
Tyrone Hopper is another guy I think could be a diamond in the rough. At 6’4” 245 lbs., the North Carolina transfer could be an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid that really boosts the Missouri pass rush, something that was certainly lacking last season.
Dreyden Norwood comes in from Texas A&M to a position of need for Mizzou: cornerback. He was a really sought-after kid coming out of high school and could make a name for himself with a fresh start.
Who will exit spring as the lead running back?
The understatement of the year: a large void is left in the wake of Tyler Badie at running back for Mizzou. Badie did virtually everything for this offense in 2021, and he goes down as one of the most productive backs in Missouri history.
Now, there are a host of guys that can make up for his absence. Elijah Young and Michael Cox Jr. are the veterans of the group, having a couple years of SEC football under their belts. Cox is the bruiser, while Young is the more explosive of the two, and the 1-2 punch they created at times last season was entertaining to watch. That may be what Drinkwitz opts to use early on, but each of these guys have the potential to exceed that.
BJ Harris was a fan-favorite in the limited time he saw last season. The former 3-star recruit (2021) out of Chattanooga, TN runs angry and has the speed to be a great change-of-pace running back.
They will have to fend off a somewhat fresh face. The previously mentioned Nathaniel Peat transfers in from Stanford, and every member of the Columbia community that pays attention to high school sports knows about him. After a prolific career at Rock Bridge High School, Peat had 404 yards and three touchdowns on 44 carries in 2021. He is a smaller back but gets downhill in a hurry, and there is just something about a townie coming home that makes him worth keeping an eye on.
4-star recruit Tavorus Jones will not be on campus until the fall, but he may have something to say about this matter when everything is said and done too. For now, all of these guys have a chance to get a head-start.
Will it end up being a by-committee approach, or will one of these guys take control?
Can Brady Cook and Tyler Macon get a jump on Sam Horn?
Similar to Luther Burden, every Mizzou fan awaits Sam Horn’s arrival on campus. The 4/5 star prospect (depends where you look) comes all the way from Suwanee, GA and will spend the spring finishing up his senior season of baseball. Many herald him as “the guy” that will revitalize this program and be the quarterback Drinkwitz has been looking for to run his offense.
For the time being though, there remain two guys on the roster that are not to be written off. With Connor Bazelak’s injuries in 2021, Brady Cook and Tyler Macon each got chances to show their mettle in games against Georgia and Army.
Macon is your typical dual-threat. Hailing from East St. Louis High School, Macon is electric with the ball in his hands and has a decent arm to boot. He remains very raw in the passing game however, and he is a step behind Cook in terms of how long they have been within this offense. Still, Macon is too great of an athlete to keep off the field, and Drinkwitz has proven to be a great developer of quarterbacks. At the minimum, I would hope he draws up some packages to get Macon the ball with options to run or throw this season.
Brady Cook got the starting nod against Army after an impressive showing in the Georgia game, and he played well. In those two games, Cook threw for 316 yards, one touchdown, and was 41/53 passing, good for a 77% completion percentage. Being thrust into a road game against the best defense in the nation and a bowl game as your first two starts is brutal, but Cook managed well. He never looked uncomfortable, took what the defense gave him, and showed everyone that he can make things happen outside of the pocket. Cook knows this offense and is an intelligent football player. If he can begin to push the limits of his arm, then it stands to reason that he will be the starter in the fall.
Horn’s arrival looms, meaning that this is the only time these two will have to show their stuff without his presence. Cook and Macon better make the most of it.